Brush Turkey [/caption
How much of human life should be assigned to individuality, and how much to society?
This was J S Mill’s question in his book On Liberty, published in 1859, the same year as Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species.Today, 160 years later, surviving human societies vary in individuality and sociality. For example, in the USA individualism is reputedly preeminent, whereas in China collectivism is more prominent.
Individual and collective orientations are not mutually exclusive. Many societies draw on both in different amounts. Emergence of societies by legislation and government often relates to both sides, as if there is a choice.
Human models of pure individualism and pure sociality are lacking. In nature, Australian brush turkeys are individualistic, whereas honey bees are social. Human societies vary, having characteristics whose position can be considered along a continuum between these two.
Honey bees live collectively, with a single female reproductive, the queen, a few male drones and a mass of sexually inactive workers. Tasks of commencing, populating, feeding and defending the colony are performed by individuals of various castes. An individual’s caste is determined by special foods, feeding and education. Lives of honey bees are lived within certain social structures without much tolerance for experimentation and deviation. The survival of the individual depends on the survival of the colony, in overcoming disease, weather, famine and attack.
Brush turkeys, by contrast, survive mostly alone. Chicks emerge from the nest without parental guidance or protection. They live freely without social structure and can experiment in mate attraction, new territories and different diets. Mature males build large nest mounds where a female comes to leave her eggs for incubation, under his instinctive supervision. The only social structures concern reproduction.
Unlike honey bees, we humans allow reproduction by workers. In most human societies, mating, home building and education of the young are able to be freely pursued by individuals within their economic constraints. Like honey bees, humans have designated roles in society with duties to perform. In some societies, humans have participative decision making to appoint authorities to conduct public welfare. In honey bees, the queen may communicate requirements. In brush turkeys there are no communal concerns.
Comparing honey bees with brush turkeys does not distinguish which animal species is better off. Australian society has facets of both a hive and turkeydom. Comparison is difficult, especially between the USA and China. For social control more like honey bees’, is control over human reproduction necessary?
When a driver could be at risk from age and health, their licence application is carefully screened. We don’t slow down all the traffic to make it safe for them.
If 92% of road deaths were aged 60+, would it be more logical to stop drivers aged 60+ from driving, or reduce traffic by restricting everyone’s social and economic interaction? To March 30th 2020 92% of World deaths from COVID-19 were 60+. Social restriction of 65+ would enable 65- to have a life, economic recovery and the community to pay for the panic.
Authority requires people to obey, when they could transmit the disease to others by following their own beliefs. The disadvantage is for people who are compelled against their beliefs, who perceive evidence, inconvenience and reasons to take an opposed view.
Suppose a person is considering a COVID-19 edict about isolation, social distancing, work closure, or restrained shopping. When rules are definite and obedience is sanctioned by law, they might consider choosing one of 4 possible alternatives.
What are the social corollaries of these choices?
1-Conforming will pay off if the ruling is correct. Choice of dominant leadership by the majority is usual in a crisis but might be rejected as fascism when less urgent.
2-The protoype obeys when others don’t. Self-sacrifice could be involved and martyrdom is unlikely to change the outcome. Machiavelli might have recognised it as the worst choice.
3-A maverick disobeys, benefits from the majority’s obedience and pleases himself. He could be worsening the situation for the others. It is a selfish strategy, one that Machiavelli might have recognised as his best choice.
4-The Matthew Effect is going with the majority. The advantage is to hide in the crowd from rulers and from blame.
This simple analysis has been intended to describe choices that matter to everyone. Sled dogs must pull in the same direction.
Social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine in the COVID-19 crisis present you with new experiences of aloneness, without the close involvement with others you are accustomed to. Some humans are more social than others, but many face being alone with unwarranted trepidation. Aloneness is not a pathological condition. Certainly, being alone can expose you to more helplessness from accident or illness, but there are compensations, such as greater freedom and independence. Feeling alone should cease.
Aversion to aloneness can be treated by habituation, similar to a dog phobia. Gradual exposure can reduce fear and you will get used to it, as you would to a barking dog. Throwing yourself into an engrossing task can provide helpful diversion. Plan social contact, such as phone calls, at longer intervals. When you are not lonely, you feel more positive about yourself, more satisfied with life and its opportunities, such as being able to enjoy nature and feel healthy. Solitary living can even become preferred.
The Roman philosopher Cicero said that he was never less lonely than when he was alone.
Actor Robin Williams said ’the worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone’.
Solitude can have benefits, such as more peacefulness, reading, study, meditation, contemplation, self-expression, artistic creation, independent action. These can be an antidote to anxiety, stress, learned helplessness, anger, depression.